- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 27, 2009

HHS

Sebelius: Ample flu vaccine forthcoming

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the swine flu vaccine “is coming out the door as fast as it comes off the production line.”

But at the same time, she acknowledged delays in getting a sufficient supply for all those demanding it.

“We were relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers, and as soon as we got numbers, we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy,” Mrs. Sebelius said in one interview. “We do have a vaccine that works.”

Mrs. Sebelius said the immune response is working faster than officials anticipated.

Appearing Monday morning on national news shows, she said officials now have a supply of about 16.5 million doses of the vaccine, while conceding that that number is millions of doses below the amount needed.

Mrs. Sebelius said she couldn’t predict just how widespread the virus will be. About 1,000 people have died from it so far in the United States. But she also said officials do not believe there is yet any cause to close schools and cease other daily activities.

VETERANS

Gates, Shinseki talk mental issues

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that troops injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to face too many bureaucratic hurdles.

Mr. Gates spoke at a mental health summit with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. By appearing publicly together, they sought to reinforce their commitment to tackling veterans’ health issues and the stigma associated with seeking mental health care.

Earlier this year, they pledged with President Obama to create a system that would make it easier for the Pentagon and VA to exchange information so there is less of a wait for veterans to get disability benefits. The VA is struggling with a backlogged disability claims system with hundreds of thousands of claims that need to be processed.

“Who’s vulnerable? Everyone,” Mr. Shinseki said. “Warriors suffer emotional injuries as much as they do physical ones.”

FEDERAL COURT

Judge tosses verdicts against TV salespeople

A judge in Alexandria has tossed out federal fraud convictions against two salespeople who used late-night infomercials to tout their stock-trading abilities and lure customers.

A jury convicted Linda Woolf of Sandy, Utah, and David Gengler of Draper, Utah, in May on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. The two were among the top earners at a company called Teach Me to Trade, which uses infomercials and hotel seminars across the country to hawk courses and software on how to make money in the stock market.

Attendees spend anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000 on the company’s courses. Prosecutors said Ms. Woolf and Mr. Gengler passed themselves off to customers as successful traders when tax records show that Woolf lost money in the market and Gengler, at best, made a nominal profit.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors, in their zeal to convict, conflated salesmanship with fraud and were seeking to criminalize conduct that is common in the marketplace.

It is rare for a judge to set aside jury verdicts and order an acquittal, but in a 51-page ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga said prosecutors simply failed to show the two had been part of any fraud scheme.

Specifically, Judge Trenga ruled that prosecutors had the burden to show that Ms. Woolf and Mr. Gengler were part of a conspiracy that included not only the defendants but the senior management of Teach Me to Trade, which is a subsidiary of publicly traded Whitney Information Network in Cape Coral, Fla.

PENTAGON

Top auditor forced from post

The Pentagon’s chief auditor was forced from her post Monday following sharp criticism from lawmakers over failures to hold defense contractors accountable for overcharges and poor performance.

April Stephenson, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency since February 2008, has been reassigned to a new position inside the Pentagon and replaced by a senior civilian Army official, according to internal e-mail messages.

While the Defense Department cast the shift as a desire to bring a fresh perspective to an organization critical to stemming waste and fraud in military spending, mounting concern on Capitol Hill with the agency’s management practices and independence was a major factor in the decision.

Among the problems were repeated failures to meet government auditing standards, a lack of planning and supervision, auditors being pressured to rush their work to meet productivity goals, and audit findings being changed to favor contractors without evidence to support the switch.

In an e-mail sent Monday to agency employees, Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale said the director of the Army Audit Agency, Patrick Fitzgerald, will replace Ms. Stephenson effective Nov. 9.

ENERGY

Lawmakers: Policy will block new energy

ANCHORAGE, Alaska | Dozens of U.S. representatives sent a letter to the head of the president’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force raising concerns it would try to block offshore energy development and cost Americans jobs.

Sixty-nine House members, including Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, sent the letter Monday in response to the panel’s interim report.

The task force is working on a policy for managing the country’s oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. Final recommendations are expected by December.

Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said it is important the task force recognizes multiple uses of the nation’s oceans, from fishing to energy development to recreation.

COURTS

Scalia: Rival doctrine seeks rigidity

TUCSON, Ariz. | U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday said those who want modern-day legal interpretations to view the U.S. Constitution through contemporary lenses are seeking rigidity, not flexibility, in the country’s justice system.

Justice Scalia is well-known as a strict constructionist in his interpretation of the Constitution. He told a Tucson audience Monday that the rival approach favors sweeping judicial decrees to shape society “coast to coast” on issues such as abortion, rather than seeking to pass laws state by state.

Justice Scalia appeared with fellow Justice Stephen G. Breyer to discuss how courts should apply the Constitution.

Justice Breyer said interpretations should consider current circumstances because society has different values than it did in the 18th century on matters such as cruel and unusual punishment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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